Church: for when you can’t buy booze

One of the arguments for the repeal of so-called blue laws limiting alcohol purchase on Sundays is that they’re an outmoded and inappropriate way of imposing one group’s religiosity on those who don’t share their beliefs. As this economic study indicates, though, repealing blue laws seems to have the most significant, and negative, effect on potential churchgoers, not on nonbelievers. (As a side note, the original Blue Laws, passed in 1655 in New Haven, CT, forbade the following Sabbath activities: baby-kissing, shaving, pleasure walks, as well as this final, general restriction: “Every male shall have his hair cut round according to a cap.”)

In this paper we identify a policy-driven change in the opportunity cost of religious participation based on state laws that prohibit retail activity on Sunday, known as “blue laws.” Many states have repealed these laws in recent years, raising the opportunity cost of religious participation… We then use a variety of datasets to show that when a state repeals its blue laws religious attendance falls, and that church donations and spending fall as well… We find that repealing blue laws leads to an increase in drinking and drug use, and that this increase is found only among the initially religious individuals who were affected by the blue laws. The effect is economically significant; for example, the gap in heavy drinking between religious and non religious individuals falls by about half after the laws are repealed.

from “The Church vs the Mall: What Happens When Religion Faces Increased Secular Competition?,” by Jonathan Gruber and Daniel Hungerman, Quarterly Journal of Economics, May 2008 :: via The .Plan

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